Thursday, June 28, 2018

Teach the ECC at a Cowboy Dude Ranch!

 Yeehaw!! Howdy partners, let's teach the Expanded Core Curriculum out on the range!  We spent four days at the Rocking R Dude Ranch and got country strong on our ECC skills. Many programs look to do a variety of programs for our students. Going to a dude ranch was a first (but definitely not a last) for me! First, let me tell you that this was not designed to be any kind of luxury country getaway for students. I wanted students to dig in their boots to cowboy life with the ECC. It was a hit! Each day we did real chores (emphasis on the word "real"), spent time developing true global concept development and we had some serious fun! Students had to brush and prepare their horses, lead them to the arena and then learn how to ride. They got up early to watch and be part of the early morning care with the horses (watching them with the wranglers was awesome!!).

Student brushes a horse in the early morning.
Student brushes a horse in the early morning. 
As usual, I did receive a slightly panicked phone call from the owner when he saw that I was bringing a large group of students with vision impairments (everyone is always a little concerned...) but after our discussion, we knew that this was a good idea! Once we got there, I definitely knew it was a good idea!! I spent time reviewing activities and working accessibility needs prior to us arriving. My awesome staff spent the first day on pre-teaching alongside of the ranch staff. 
Female student sits on her horse listening to instruction from a dude ranch staff.
Female student sits on her horse listening to instruction from a dude ranch staff. 
Always remember to request (or bring) multiples of items so everyone gets lots of hands on to help with concept development. We had a ton of lassos, access to all the saddles, brushes, etc. so that true concept development could happen. Students didn't just touch one part of the animal. They learned about the food, its shelter, its weight, leisure activities, etc. Each group traded trivia questions that they came up with. 

Female student has roped a practice bull with her lasso while another student gets up close to a lasso with a staff member.
Female student has roped a practice bull with her lasso while another student gets up close to a lasso with a staff member. 
My FAVORITE thing to do is to help students see how the ECC is EVERYWHERE in their lives! Repeatedly throughout the day I worked with every group about how and why their activities were ECC skills. We have definitely gone past the easy point of simply stating "this is independent living skills because I am eating," (that's just our starting point...). We really dig in to why the cafeteria is a place for ILS skills, what about what they are doing, we dig into every single aspect so that they can see how it is SOOOO much more than independent living skills because we are eating. In fact, we always discover how so many areas of the ECC can be tied to one activity. It always opens their eyes to seeing how the ECC is truly all day, everyday. 
Students are in a circle for lawn games playing a game.
Students are in a circle for lawn games playing a game. 
Female student walks her horse into the arena while an adult staff leads on the other side.
Female student walks her horse into the arena while an adult staff leads on the other side.
I loved being at the dude ranch because it allowed all of my students to connect to the world in ways many of them don't get to experience. They had to problem solve while riding their horses. They had to work their teamwork skills as they were tubing down the river. They saw how important it is to care for an animal in real time. Of course many students have had animal interactions before. But this  opportunity allowed them to go bigger and bolder. They had plenty of time as no one was rushed through anything. We even had a real rodeo where all the students (and a very slow riding teacher named Robbin) did barrel racing and pole bending. 
Female student is hands on with goats with an adult staff member
I always love doing programs in the community for a variety of reasons. One, it helps the community see ability instead of disability with our students. They learn so much about accessibility and ability of people with vision impairments. I always offer to do free trainings, leave tactile maps, etc. so I leave the facility more accessible for the next blind person.  Two, the more I do things in the community, the more my students learn about what's available in the community. Three, I hope that it creates the opportunity for my students to return to the location with their family and friends outside of a program/camp. 

a female student is on a barrel to simulate riding a bull while other students pull attached cords at the corners of the barrel for the simulation
a female student is on a barrel to simulate riding a bull while other students pull attached cords at the corners of the barrel for the simulation
I could go on and on about our daily activities and how fun (and so educational) they were. Our evening activities matched the day with ECC fun! We had campfires (who doesn't love a good fire and camp songs?!) as well as learning how to line dance with a live country band! I secretly love line dancing because it is such a fun way to teach so many orientation and mobility skills! 
A group of female and male teenagers stand together with their life jackets on before going tubing in the river.
A group of female and male teenagers stand together with their life jackets on before going tubing in the river. 
The magic of camp can continue as long as we work hard to connect skills from camp to the real world at home. This is the part that often is a negative for camps and programs for our students: it's not in the student's real world. How do they keep their skills going? Where are they going to get a horse again? Well, the horse I can't help with but the skills part I can. Even though we were at a dude ranch, I kept focusing on the take away lessons and skills. We do this every camp and program. How can you take home what you are learning at camp? How can I empower parents to help keep the magic going? We have to close the loop and help students learn to generalize their skills to other environments. First I focus on the immediate environment but then I start leading to master in many environments. It's an important part of all our programs!
Get your cowboy boots on, grab your hat and head to a dude ranch for down on the range ECC instruction!!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Study Abroad ECC Australia

A study abroad program based on the Expanded Core Curriculum
I am so excited to share this post with everyone because this is all about Study Abroad ECC Australia! This has easily been added to my top 5 education experiences. I almost don't even know where to start. Just kidding! I will start at the beginning. The beginning is gratitude to my school, the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, for supporting this idea! Two years ago I led us on an exchange program with Camp Abilities Ireland and that kicked off our study abroad program. I learned that Australia also has a recognized Expanded Core Curriculum and started researching schools. And now we had a study abroad location: Australia! 
We partnered with RIDBC Sydney and SA School for the Blind (SASVI) in Adelaide. 
It was critical to us that our program was a true education endeavor from start to finish. Students had to apply for the program based on a college application. After a review committee used a rubric, scored the essays and selected the students, we were in business!

students with vision impairments pose for a group picture with art
We spent the next 2.5 months together in an Expanded Core Curriculum bootcamp! The entire study abroad program was based on the ECC--my dream scenario :) Each week students completed projects from transportation to recreation and leisure. We used distance education, technology and on campus sessions for our work. One of my favorite instruction tools was using some of my former students as mentors. These former students are all domestic and international travelers. We had Zoom sessions (like Skype) and students asked questions and listened intently to advice from mentors. 
 Here are some of our examples of lessons that we did in preparation for traveling to Australia:

  • On campus session. Students had to work with their mobility instructors and themselves to coordinate traveling to campus as a group. No parents could provide transportation to campus.
  • Financial Academy. They also had to be enrolled in our distance education financial academy. Coursework went beyond budgeting but also covered accessibility for banks, where they want to live and the real world budgeting. 
  • Fundraising and coordinating. Students organized a variety show to help support their financial needs. They were in charge of coordinating, entertainment and ticket sales. 
  • Transition. We spent a lot of time focusing on skills (for right now) that would be needed later in adulthood. We used the Transition Skills Competency Checklist.
  • Weekly ECC in the real world projects. The main goal of the program was to help students see how the ECC is every where in their daily life. They learned all the skills that comprise the ECC. It was more in depth than just saying "independent living skills". They could list skill after skill that were included in the ILS section. 
  • Communication & presentation. They developed their public speaking skills for sure! The students were responsible for all presentations. They gave ECC presentations at schools, with Aussie students and teachers. They will forever remember all the areas of the ECC!

teacher holding a koala

There are few experiences these days that teachers can really feel like they are doing it right. This was my experience. We often write IEP goals, do lessons, camps, etc. but it's tough to see it all through. For the entire program I was able to "see it all through". It was fantastic to teach, coach, model and then watch them not only implement it but to get it in the marrow of their bones. These super six students learned to see how the ECC is part of everything they do and how it is the most important part of their education.
t shirt that reads: And then I learned that adventure was the best way to learn

Sydney Opera House
 What else besides the Expanded Core Curriculum did we do? The ECC was the most important objective of our instruction. However, in order to show how important it is, it needs to be taught through meaningful experiences.

Here are some of our adventures:

  • Touch tour of the Sydney Opera House. We had a special tour with a lots of hands on! The tour guide even brought out a small replica of the opera house. We got to get hands on and go back stage and see the sets, one of my students had the opportunity to sing and we got to learn so much about the famous opera house. 
  • Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. This was an unforgettable experience! We suited up and climbed the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge. Many of our students had very limited vision but we were still able to do so much on the bridge climb. We divided into small groups and got hands on and ears on with the climb. 
  • Sports, recreation & leisure. We had a variety of different recreation activities that were a blast! Most notably, we learned how to play a variety of sports that were accessible for people with vision impairments. We loved learning how to play blind cricket and Australian Rules Football. 
  • Australian Rules Football match. This one needed its own line because this was another unforgettable experience! We got to get on the field and high five the players as they came out. We had never seen this before so we loved learning the game. Thanks to our friends at SASVI who taught us how to play. 
  • Our koala cuddle. We loved visiting the Australian wildlife parks and learning about all the different native Australian animals but our favorite was the opportunity to hold a koala!

student playing blind cricket

group of students with vision impairments at an Australian rules football game

one male and one female student holding an Australian rules football game ball
The students had lessons on everything in the ECC (are you sick of me saying that?) especially in transportation situations that they don't always encounter. We did the traditional bus lessons but we also did lessons for taking a ferry, taxi/Uber, train and finding our way all over Sydney! That was no small feat as there is a ton of construction in Sydney.

The best part is that this isn't our only program. We are so excited to continue our Study Abroad programs! It truly has become one of my most treasured teaching experiences.
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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Use the Expanded Core to Teach Financial Literacy

Teach Financial Literacy Skills and Expanded Core Curriculum

A major part of independent living skills in the Expanded Core is money management. Money management skills are part of financial literacy. All youth need solid financial literacy skills for adulthood. We all know what happens when you don’t have good money skills! 

Many of our students receive ECC money management skills in terms of money identification skills. For example, folding money and using apps to identify it. However, there is so much more that our students need! Let’s incorporate the other ECC skills areas to help build a solid financial literacy skills foundation!

I recently started a distance education program with our school. The students do a majority of their learning at home and attend sessions over distance ed technology with me. They also come to campus for two full days of intensive hands on learning. 

I didn’t want to recreate the wheel with writing a financial literacy program for students. That can be super time consuming! I researched several programs and came away with a winner: Orange Owl Academy! There are several solid financial literacy programs but Orange Owl covered areas that many programs lacked. Orange Owl covered growth mindset, comparison of costs and had the most opportunities to implement ECC skills (beyond money management). 

Here’s an example of how I infused ECC: There is a section in the program where Teacher Taylor from Orange Owl asks students to think about their future home. I was able to implement transition skills, career ed and orientation and mobility into this whole session because we discussed transportation considerations, roommate living and access to work. 
Orange Owl has all videos that are accessible and a workbook. The workbook was a bit of a challenge for converting to .brf files (there were a lot of tables) but thanks to my faithful colleague, Becky who converted everything. We had a fully accessible workbook. 

We spent two full days on campus and that is where we targeted blindness specific skills. I also brought in some young adult blind mentors who helped lend some experience, tips and tricks for my students. 

The price for Orange Owl is $69.97. Our school paid for the subscription. The bonus is that our students and their family could do this together. We invited parents and siblings to do the course. The distance ed piece were weekly Zoom (like Skype) meetings. We did Orange Owl + the Expanded Core for 8 weeks. Each weeks has a theme that works with the Orange Owl curriculum. The Expanded Core piece is based on the EVALS assessment and the skills from the ECC. 

As the teacher, using the Orange Owl Academy curriculum helped me to focus on the ECC. I didn’t need to recreate the wheel with what financial skills to teach. It was a great partnering for me as I had students from all over the state participate in the program. 

Are you ready for the best news? 
I have spoken with Teacher Taylor from Orange Owl and we would love to invite more students to join! Families or schools will buy the subscription and can do the Expanded Core work with me. Please contact me, for more details. The Financial Academy can be done year round. I had some students who were able to get school credit for this. 

Here is the link for Orange Owl Academy to check out the program:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Make Your Own ECC Skills/Assessment Binder

Hi friends, A few weeks ago I decided to organize all my ECC assessments because I am always referencing them when writing lesson plans and activities. For every single thing I do with my students, I always reference my ECC assessments, EVALS and ILSA. I have previously scanned all my ECC tools into Google Drive and made them editable pdf files so I can use them easily. But accessing the digital files was tough when I am laying out all my resources. The answer came when I decided to compile all my ECC tools--skills, screening tools, assessments, examples of each area, etc.  into an easy to use binder. I've LOVED it! I use it all the time and all my tools are at my finger tips.

I whipped up a fun cover for my binder with an at-a-glance list of everything in my binder and hole punched all my copies. It took me about 20 minutes to make it all happen.
Here's what I have in my ECC Resource binder:
First is my areas and skills of the ECC handout that we made for our teachers. This is an at-a-glance of each of the 9 areas of the Expanded Core. This way I can always look for how each of the ECC areas can come up in school routines or activities.
5 of the 9 areas of the ECC with a bulleted list of skills for each area.
Picture of the areas & skills of the ECC handout.   
I also keep several sections of EVALS in my binder.  EVALS is a comprehensive assessment for students with vision impairments developed by TSBVI. I love EVALS because it is specifically written for students with vision impairments. Too often I meet teachers that borrow from other disability groups and use their assessments. The problem with borrowing those assessments is that it doesn't cover the unique needs of students with vision impairments. Our students require a special sequence of skills. I use the Exit  Assessment (both for students that need on-going support and will not need the support). EVALS comes as a kit with other tools in it: 
  • Two books of evaluations for the ECC areas
  • One book of evaluations for academic subject areas for Practical Academics and Basic Skills students
  • Independent Living Skills Assessment and On-going Evaluation
  • TAPS Comprehensive Assessment and On-going Evaluation
Every TVI must have access to EVALS! I can't say it enough--I use it for all my planning! If you are unfamiliar with EVALS, you can read up on it (and purchase it) here:

I also keep a copy of the entire Independent Living Skills Assessment (ILSA) because I also consider it a helpful tool. I use ILSA a lot to see the sequence of skills in each section. I also like it because it has the age group target so I can look forward and backward for each group of skills. The ILSA is a little out of date with skills (like they reference using a phone book) but it still has a lot of valuable use to it. I like to share the ILSA with parents because it shows them what skills by what age are ideal for students. I often copy a few pages and send it home and ask parents to fill it out to see what kind of skills students can do at home. 
I also keep a copy of my ECC worksheet that I use with my teachers. I use this worksheet when reviewing ECC skills instruction during everyday school routines. I use this worksheet when I am planning lessons and activities. I always outline how the activity meets the areas of the Expanded Core in my lesson plans. 

Other items that I have that are not pictured are an ECC screening tool developed by Karen Blankenship. You can get the screening tool from the website EA Rubrics. Here is the link for it: EA Rubrics has a lot of valuable information for teaching the essential assessments for students with vision impairments. The essential assessments are a functional vision assessment (FVA), learning media assessment (LMA) and the ECC screening tool. 
I totally recommend that all vision professionals create an Expanded Core assessment/skills binder. It makes referencing skills and evaluating skills easy. Plus it helps me really know the areas and the skills. I have memorized several areas because I reference them often. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Amazing Race ECC Community Based Instruction

Amazing Race

We had so much fun using The Amazing Race as our Expanded Core lesson! It was a great way to do community based instruction (CBI). You can get all kinds of ideas for The Amazing Race activities online. I love Pinterest so I started there but there are a lot of great online resources to help plan. This particular Amazing Race was for our students and siblings of kids with vision impairments. 
To make this work as an effective ECC CBI, think about your skills and your location. It should be a good challenge but doable (this allows you to focus on meaningful instruction). I selected a mall that was not very large and didn't have an overwhelming amount of pedestrian traffic (this allowed me to really work on OM skills). We also went to a main street that had a good amount of stores and Walmart. 

Of course one of our first challenges was for everyone to learn about the ECC! I bought a ton of those onesie PJ costumes and my staff dressed up  so we would be obvious for our students to find for challenges. That just made things fun and silly for all. 
In addition to the clues pictured in the post, students had to work on their ECC skills such as time management, compensatory skills, a lot of different OM skills (using landmarks, monoculars, directionality) and self-determination. The teams needed to work on communication and team building skills. Each staff member had a lesson plan so that we could provide direct instruction on all these ECC topics. Clues were printed in large print and a Braille copy. 
As always, be mindful of areas that should have some pre-or post teaching. If students have to figure out a ton of items, the main objectives of the lesson get lost. Each group had a (staff) coach who provided some 5 minute instruction as the students played the game. We also wanted to work in transportation skills but it  was a challenge to work in public transportation. We used our school bus and named it the "rendezvous point". The bus was parked somewhere along the route and students had to use their mapping skills to locate it. 
No Amazing Race challenge would be complete without a food challenge. Enter the simulator kits and Oreos! This was for everyone. I bought every kind of Oreo cookie and students had to identify the flavor. It was actually a fun way of doing sensory efficiency because we had to work the other senses for sure!
This could easily be a repeated activity and not just a stand alone one day program. You can even give skill level of beginner, intermediate and advanced. There is so much potential and I can't wait to do it again! It also doesn't even need to be just a blind school camp activity, families can do this as well! Just remember some of the points that I shared so that it is accessible and fun. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Parent Mobility Resource

I am so excited to share a really great resource with you! Two of our super amazing orientation & mobility instructors have started a website all about OM skills. It has videos and lots of good tips for cane travel. The best part: it's all written for parents! The language and instruction is very parent friendly. 
This is definitely a resource you want to save and use over and over. 
I love the O&M skills tab where they break down O&M skills by grades. It lets parents know according to grade level what skills are appropriate. 
The other thing that I love is that both mobility instructors, Bethany & Linda, are not just instructors but have personal ties to the field. They bring their understanding of the vision impairment community to add to the resources.